Rampant bribery at customs called main challenge

Bribery of customs officials is one of the main challenges in the fight against smuggling and fiscal fraud, according to Margarita Villalobos, who heads the Dirección de Inspección Fiscal at the Ministerio de Hacienda.

Last year the agency detected a record amount of products that made their way through customs with false information so importers pay less tax, she said.

This was allowed to happen by corrupt customs clearance officers who likely took bribes from importers, she said.

“In one of the cases we checked, the person in charge of reviewing the merchandise claimed to have cleared an entire container in 10 minutes,” something suspicious since “it took three people three days to completely clear a way smaller container.” she explained. She spoke in an interview with a reporter Tuesday.

Mrs. Villalobos said that stronger measures are taken in these cases and penalties up to termination have been applied to all those connected with this type of plot.

She also blamed what she called a ring of paqueteros for their responsibility in the scams. Paqueteros are a group of companies and individuals who sell themselves as importers without being registered at Ministerio de Hacienda.

They offer their services to small internet shoppers for very low prices and usually import the merchandise by shipping rather than by plane. Once these goods arrive into customs, bribery takes its part, she said.

“It is really risky to rely on these companies because if the merchandise faces any problem, it will be seized indefinitely and the original buyers may never get what they paid for. Probably it’s not their fault but they should have paid more attention with whom they were doing business with.” Mrs. Villalobos added.

According to her, these companies and individuals come from and serve all backgrounds, regardless of gender or socio-economic level.

A similar position is held by Benito Coghi, director of Dirección General de Aduanas, who said that the number of paqueteros are on the rise and only through strict monitoring they can be spotted. He said not only poor or uneducated people fall for these tricks, but also the wealthy and the powerful.

Last October, Hacienda reported a well-known home appliances chain brought in 369 flat screens under the name of individual buyers to avoid tax and then sold those television sets in their stores.

In March, Hacienda officials said they spotted a more elaborate fraud attempt. In this case, importers tried to bring in flat screens under the benefits of the free trade treaty with the United States by lying about the country of origin.bribe051116

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